Is there someone you lead or someone else in your life who has an issue with giving? Someone you find to be self-absorbed and uncaring of others?
At one time, I struggled with dealing with this kind of person. I could not relate to the behaviour or the mindset that drove it; and I could not empathize with the person exhibiting the behaviour. I concluded that this sort of person was simply a bad person. And my behaviour reflected that belief. I didn’t listen well to this sort of person and I showed little empathy. Listening and empathy are at the heart of good leadership, but I chose to act with impatience and anger. Ironically, I did not show empathy for those incapable of empathy themselves.
Over the years, my attitude has changed substantially. The change came from the understanding that those who seemingly refuse to give and share, very likely grew up in – or were otherwise affected by – an environment where they were deprived of some of their basic needs. They were treated in some way that required them to fight for what they had. Maybe food, maybe shelter, or maybe even the love of their parents. Maybe they are still fighting for the necessities of life.
I remember while I was grappling with the idea of where selfishness came from, I had a conversation with a foster parent. He described to me how kids often hoarded food when they first came to his home. He became so used to the idea, that he told them it was okay to lock some non-perishable food in a cabinet in their room. The foster parent told me he had put this cabinet in just so the kids could have a place to keep some things secure and it really seemed to help them feel more comfortable. He told me how once they had a stock of granola bars and other items in their own cabinet, they seemed much more open to sharing food normally with the family at meals, not grabbing everything they could. And they became much more comfortable overall.
The fundamental paradigm shift for me came after this conversation with the foster parent. Today, I have far more empathy for people who seem selfish to me. I listen empathically and I give openly to them of my time and energy, just like I would for anyone else. By being open, empathetic, and giving with this type of person, I am trying to help fill up their personal cabinet so they can be more giving with others, or at least less selfish. I think I am having some success and for sure I know I am a much better friend or leader to this type of person today.